Dental care and medicare beneficiaries: Access gaps, cost burdens, and policy options

Amber Willink, Cathy Schoen, Karen Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the wealth of evidence that oral health is related to physical health, Medicare explicitly excludes dental care from coverage, leaving beneficiaries at risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease and exposed to high out-of-pocket spending. To profile these risks, we examined access to dental care across income groups and types of insurance coverage in 2012. High-income beneficiaries were almost three times as likely to have received dental care in the previous twelve months, compared to low-income beneficiaries-74 percent of whom received no dental care. We also describe two illustrative policies that would expand access, in part by providing income-related subsidies. One would offer a voluntary, premium-financed benefit similar to those offered by Part D prescription drug plans, with an estimated premium of $29 per month. The other would cover basic dental care in core Medicare Part B benefits, financed in part by premiums ($7 or $15 per month, depending on whether premiums covered 25 percent or 50 percent of the cost) and in part by general revenues. The fact that beneficiaries are forgoing dental care and are exposed to significant costs if they seek care underscores the need for action. The policies offer pathways for improving health and financial independence for older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2241-2248
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Affairs
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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